Roleplaying

Unearthed Arcana Review: Oath of Heroism Paladin

A paladin in armor with a glowing sword.
Paladins are the cleric’s punchier cousin. I remember playing a paladin in my first 5E campaign, back when I thought Charger was a good feat.* At the time, our entire playgroup was convinced that the paladin’s notable Smite ability was incredibly overpowered. While our understanding of 5E and the relative power of the various class options at the time might have been… underdeveloped, we were correct that the paladin is by far the strongest martial class in 5E, and one of the better classes overall.

What’s interesting about paladins is that much of their strength comes from their base class features, with subclass features playing more of a supporting role than they do in many classes. This is nice for players more interested in the flavor of a subclass than its mechanics, as even a weak paladin subclass has all the normal paladin features propping it up. Wizards of the Coast has recently introduced a new subclass option for paladins, the Oath of Heroism. This oath imagines the paladin as a hero from Greek mythology, a champion of the gods that channels their divine power into feats of myth and legend. I’m happy to report that this subclass has the mechanical chops to support the literally epic flavor it comes with, starting at level 3.

Level 3 – Oath Spells

You gain oath spells at the paladin levels listed in the Oath of Heroism Spells table.

Paladin Level Spells
3rd expeditious retreat, guiding bolt
5th enhance ability, enthrall
9th haste, protection from energy
13th compulsion, freedom of movement
17th commune, conjure volley

For the most part, these oath spells fall into my “rarely used” category, with one outstanding exception: Haste. Haste is one of the best level 3 spells in the game. It grants +2 armor class, doubles the target’s movement, gives advantage on dexterity saving throws, and grants an additional action that usually translates into one additional attack. This inclusion alone makes the oath spell edition worth mentioning, and while I’m sad that there aren’t more viable spells present, I’ll happily take what’s there.

Level 3 – Chanel Divinity

You gain the following two Channel Divinity options.

Peerless Athlete. You can use your Channel Divinity to augment your athleticism with divine favor. As a bonus action, you gain advantage on all Strength (Athletics) and Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks for the next 10 minutes.

Legendary Strike. You can use your Channel Divinity as a bonus action to guide your attacks: for 1 minute, your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20 on the d20.

Another good feature. I like the multiple options present here. Peerless Athlete, while not amazing, is a nice bonus to have and is powerful when applicable. Legendary Strike, the option much more likely to be used, is very strong in any combat situation. Increasing a character’s chance to get a critical strike is always good. Paladins in particular love to crit, as any dice provided by their Smite feature are doubled as well. I’m glad to see Wizards erring on the side of powerful channel options, when in the past we’ve seen them go in the opposite direction.*

Level 7 – Mighty Deed

Your actions on the battlefield can supernaturally bolster your allies and demoralize your enemies. Whenever you score a critical hit or reduce a creature to 0 hit points, you can choose one or more creatures that you can see within 30 feet of you, up to a number equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of one creature). All the chosen creatures are affected by one of the following effects of your choice:

  • The creature gains temporary hit points equal to 1d6 + your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1 temporary hit point).
  • The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or be frightened of you until the start of your next turn.
    Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until the start of your next turn.

This feature is really cool. I love the flavor of the paladin’s divine feats of strength inspiring their allies to fight with renewed vigor while paralyzing their enemies with fear. Along with its great flavor, this feature is also mechanically powerful. At level 7, a paladin with 18 charisma would be handing out an average of 7.5 temporary hit points every time this ability activates. Combined with the damage mitigation caused by enemies who fail their saving throw, even one trigger of this ability could have a major impact on an encounter.

I especially like how activating this feature requires no additional action. Because so many good features are hamstrung by their activation requirements, I’m happy to see that Wizards isn’t afraid to put more “free actions” in their game. If I had one complaint, it would be that this feature feels very weak when it comes to fighting individual powerful enemies. Greek heroes weren’t just heroic during mass battles, but when fighting giant monsters as well. I’d like to see some adjustments made to add a consistent benefit even when the paladin isn’t able to crit or kill an enemy.

Level 15 – Glorious Defense

Your blessed glory on the battlefield can misdirect an attack. When a creature you can see hits you with an attack roll, you can use your reaction to gain a bonus to AC against that attack, potentially causing it to miss you. The bonus equals your Charisma modifier (minimum of +1). If the attack misses, you can make one weapon attack against the attacker as part of this reaction.

Another great feature. I think Wizards did an impressive job of spreading out the type of action required to activate this oath’s suite features. In one turn a Heroism paladin can use its bonus action to channel their Divinity, trigger Mighty Deed by scoring a critical, and then use Glorious Defense against anyone still alive to strike back. The only issue I see with this feature is that it competes with the Shield spell, but since that is not normally a spell paladins get, I’d call it a minor issue at most.

Level 20 – Living Myth

You can now empower yourself with the legends—whether true or exaggerated—told of your great deeds. As a bonus action, you gain the following benefits for 10 minutes:

  • You are blessed with otherworldly comeliness, gaining advantage on all Charisma checks.
  • Once on each of your turns when you make a weapon attack and miss, you can cause that attack to hit instead.
  • If you fail a saving throw, you can use your reaction to succeed instead. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

A good capstone feature to a solid subclass, I think this is a reasonable reward for any player who sticks with one class for a full 20 levels. The improved charisma feature is easily the weakest of the three, as I doubt many players want to spend their once-per-long-rest ability to be a little better at talking. However, in a pinch it can be used for a critical Persuasion or Intimidation roll. The combat applications, on the other hand, are much stronger. Being able to turn one miss per turn into a hit is obviously good, especially if your group’s GM likes high AC monsters. It also eliminates the bad feelings which happen when you spend your whole action attacking only to accomplish absolutely nothing due to a pair of natural ones.

The ability to automatically succeed at a saving throw is stronger still, as by level 20 a single failed save could be the difference between life and death for a character. Paladins already have excellent saves, and the ability to convert the infrequent failure into a success means that this subclass is almost immune to any save-or-suck* spell.

If you haven’t guessed already, I really like this subclass. It has great flavor coming from a genre of fantasy mostly unexplored in traditional D&D. Alongside the fluff is a robust set of mechanics that combine powerful combat features with a good support/crowd control ability. I know Wizards has a habit of scaling back the power of UA content prior to release, but I really hope they don’t do that with this subclass. Despite all the praise I’ve given the Oath of Heroism, I don’t think it’s stronger than the Oath of Ancients or Oathbreaker subclasses. Providing another powerful option for paladin players will only increase character diversity, which is an undeniable positive for the game.

What I’d Change

As with previous subclasses I liked, there’s not a lot I’d change here. However, there are a few tweaks I’d make. The first would be to the oath’s additional spell list. At the moment, it’s almost entirely propped up by the inclusion of the Haste spell, and while that alone makes the feature good, I’d like to see other spells worth using. Warding Bond and Beacon of Hope are two such spells, resonating with the subclass’s focus on being a warrior of destiny and an awe-inspiring force on the battlefield. At higher levels, Steelwind Strike is a reasonable area of effect damage option for the paladin. If you want to include a nod to famous mythological archers, Swiftquiver could be included as well.

I’d also make an addition to Mighty Deed, allowing the paladin to activate it manually using a bonus action once or twice per long rest. By allowing manual activation, I would ensure that this feature would feel useful even when fighting a single powerful opponent. This change makes the ability more generally applicable without increasing its power level too much.

Lastly, I’d replace Living Myth’s advantage to all charisma checks with a buff to our Mighty Deed feature, doubling the temporary hit points provided and forcing enemies making Fear saves to roll with disadvantage. I’m a big fan of higher-level subclass features referencing those gained at lower level, and by making all three bonuses gained by Living Myth combat related, I’m making where it is best used clear.

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Comments

  1. El Suscriptor Justiciero

    > Bonus actions are not the same thing as free actions, as it turns out.

    That’s correct, bonus actions are the same thing as *Swift* actions instead. (Or Minor actions if you play 4E).

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